Hey guys! First of all, I'm sorry that it took me so long to update this story. If you follow me on tumblr (theelliedoll) then you know I haven't been feeling great for the past two months. It's been hard to focus, and that's left me little to no productive time in terms of writing this story. I'm sorry, but I promise I am doing my best here. I hope that, in spite of the delay, you're still interested in the story, and will enjoy the chapter.
Mostly because, well—don't hate me—it'll be a while before this story gets updated again. I'm going away on holiday, and I won't have a computer or internet access for a while. I will be back in August, but in September I'm moving abroad for a while; it's going to be a very hectic month for me, so I can't make any promises. Just know that I'm really grateful to know that there are people reading this story, and I take very seriously my commitment with you guys. It will take longer, and I may struggle my way through it at times, but I am committed to this story, and I will see it through.
And that is all.
Hope you like the chapter!
Rebekah's voice is barely more audible than the rattling breaths jumping out of her throat. Caroline can hear it: the empty air seeping out of her rubber lungs, getting trapped in the lump knotted down Rebekah's throat. It comes as a momentary distraction from the haunting vision before her eyes. The beautiful, ivory-colored nursery in the main floor of Tyler's mansion—Matt's house; Caroline's safe haven. Look what it's become. The refuge of a hidden baby, keeping the elegant white crib, and the most beautiful baby ever born, sleeping peacefully in the confinement of the fine wood bars.
She looks like an angel. Of course.
Caroline didn't even cast one look at her, on that terrible morning she was born, in a puddle of watered-down blood and whimpering in Caroline's tiny, crappy dorm room. She can't tell now if the first months of the baby's life have changed her any, but she supposes they have—she knows that much: babies change drastically in their first few weeks. So maybe the girl wasn't born this perfect: a little chubby rose-cheeked baby doll of short honey-blond curls and pearl-white skin. She's sleeping soundly, so Caroline can't see what color her eyes are. She imagines a haunting shade of blue-sky green.
"I'm sure my father is twisting and turning in his grave," Rebekah says, finally.
And Caroline snorts, in spite of herself; her weak breath coughed-up into a quick, mirthless laugh. "Yeah, that's what your brother said."
Something about blood—the way things are always about blood, one way or another, when it comes to Klaus.
It's predictable that Caroline knows, but still Rebekah returns the laugh, with a large dose less of bitterness. Her mocking tone is almost tender, light-hearted. "No longer giving him the silent treatment? That's so… not surprising."
Well, she had that one coming. So Caroline ignores the jab with grace, because really, whatever. It's not like her curiosity isn't one hundred percent genuine as she wrinkles up her nose, twisting her neck to look at Rebekah, whose eyes remain glued to the sleeping baby, like nothing else exists. She doesn't really understand—
"Why is it so important to piss off Mikael? He's dead. Shouldn't you all just, I don't know, move on?"
For a couple of breaths Rebekah doesn't say a thing. Like perhaps she's pretending she hasn't heard, or doesn't care to answer. Like maybe she's thinking about what degree of honesty and open-heartedness Caroline deserves, given the unconventional circumstances of her strange relationship with Rebekah's most dangerous, most terrible, most vulnerable brother. But at last, she speaks.
"Mikael killed Nik's father," is what she says. "He killed his entire family, making sure their bloodline would extinguish just as Mikael's, after my mother's curse. Making sure that Nik would forever be alone and… disconnected. Different. The odd one out even among his family. A bastard."
Well, a bastard he is alright, Caroline bites against her poisonous tongue. Because, come on, isn't that ironic? Klaus is a gigantic asshole bastard, but look at his angel baby. It's precisely because of how gigantic a bastard he is, that now—
"It's the wolf blood running through her veins," Rebekah whispers, and that explains it all, doesn't it? "It's impossible. Vampires can't procreate—"
"Nik's been dead for a thousand years," Rebekah interrupts Caroline's snarky interruption before she can verbally slap her absentee brother. "I remember Nik. Nik died. My father put a sword through his heart, like he put a sword through all our hearts. Nik was a dead werewolf before he even became a vampire—"
Her words don't really trail off; they stop suddenly, like running into a wall. Like coming across an insurmountable obstacle. An unpredicted realization. Rebekah's sharp intake of breath is so sudden that it makes Caroline steer away her thoughts, at last, from her self-absorbed indignation on the issue of the whole fuck-up of Klaus and Hayley's perfect baby girl. Just like that she's focused, suddenly, as if by magic, on what Rebekah is trying to tell her without actually telling her—without, perhaps, even realizing she's trying to say anything at all. So she swallows down, shushes the insistent voice inside her head reminding her that this is none of her business and she does not care, and against her better judgment curls her dry, velvet, intrigued tongue around the question.
Her voice comes out clear, open, untainted by sarcasm or any other form of pointless defense, finally. "What are you saying?"
Nik was a dead werewolf before he even became a vampire—
The late morning sunlight of early spring, Virginia, seeps bright and warm through the tall windowpanes above the crib. The sunrays wash over Rebekah's face like a misplaced halo, unveiling every little hint of suspicion in her slight frown as she mutters, so low she sounds like she's speaking to herself. "The witches say it's a loophole in nature. Because my brother is… unique."
Caroline swallows again, noticing how the lump in her throat grows thicker the more she struggles to melt it away. What Rebekah is hinting at—
"But you don't believe that."
That the angel baby girl sleeping right here is a loophole in nature. A miracle.
Rebakah breathes in, slowly. Like she truly needs the calming surge of oxygen rushing through her ancient, lifeless veins. Her fingers are trembling slightly, oddly; so she closes them around the brittle crib bars—and what a strange kind of anchoring, Caroline barely has time to think, before Rebekah's plaguing words fall softly, almost timidly off her abnormally-imperfect cracked lips.
"I was a dead witch before I was a vampire."
Caroline frowns so vehemently that her whole forehead hurts. Yeah, well, she thinks. I was a dead cheerleader before I was a vampire. What's that got to do with anything?
Before she can ask, though, before she can put on her bitchy pants and sass the hell out of Rebekah's mystical nonsensical ramblings, Rebekah's turned on her feet and blurred her flashing way to the door of the nursery, kind of like, unless she puts to good use her vampire super-abilities, no hell nor high water is going to tear her away from the crib. Like it's either a blur quicker than a breath, or else she becomes a statue of salt. Like if she dares to think as she walks away—
—she won't be able to take a step.
"Come on, Caroline," she calls, her face turned away and her dull voice echoing with obviously-fake disinterest. "There's someone downstairs I want you to meet."
"Caroline, this is Sophie."
Sophie. A hippie-looking witch who, Caroline guesses, could come from no other place in the world other than New Orleans. Not that Caroline has been even to the Big Easy, and not that she has any plans now to ever visit the place, given the circumstances, but—
The leather sandals in the wintry Virginia springtime, the long skirt, the retro scarf, the collection of charms hanging from her neck and knotted around her wrists. She's obviously a witch—and a rather bohemian one, it looks like. Rather intense, too, given the squint in her eyes as she takes Caroline in, examining her, assessing that she's real, a young pretty blood-sucker, but nothing too special, and yet—look at her. The small-town forever-cheerful mean-girl little girl who has managed to wrap the big bad hybrid around her finger, and now can't pry him off, no matter how hard she tries; how ready she is to snap her own candy-stick finger in two, if she must. To keep him away.
As if it were a form of appraisal, Sophie's handshake is firm, shaking with a distinctive lack of gentleness. "It's good to finally meet you, Caroline."
It's easy to smile her Southern Belle smile out of habit, stroke her tongue down the roof of her mouth as her grinning lips draw, likewise; her eyes, sparkling. But those are old human habits, acquired through a long process of incessant, steadfast training meant for a life she was supposed to live before she got caught in this mess of monsters and bastards—habits that are fading just a tiny bit more slowly than the memories. So Caroline shakes off her the tentative first steps of a smile, and secures the frown on her forehead. Because Sophie the Hippie Witch knows who Caroline is, of course—
—but Caroline, once again, remains groping her away deeper and deeper through the dark.
So she asks, unforgivably impolite. "Who are you?"
Sophie—whoever she is, god damn her—is far from abashed, or caught off-guard. Her cold, courteous smile doesn't even tremble as her eyes flicker momentarily to Rebekah, in a fleeting gesture of complicity that pisses Caroline off beyond measure. It barely lasts a second before Sophie's eyes lock onto Caroline's suspicious gaze, and she shrugs. "I'm only the messenger."
It's clear in the dark glint that catches fire in the girl's eyes, that she immediately believes her an envoy from Klaus. That she's here to pass on a message that is meant to turn her head around—about the girl, or the pretend human guardian, the cover-story to allow Rebekah access to the girl, and to this beautiful house they are all standing in.
There are some houses like this one, upriver in New Orleans. But Sophie has never really been to that part of town.
—she only knows a world of beautiful houses and quiet gardens and haunting woods, and it's strange, to place the pretty perfect picture of her in the dark, bloody world of Klaus. She's only a means to an end, as far as Sophie is concerned, but—
—Caroline doesn't look like the kind of girl fated to fulfill such a miserable role.
But who is she to wonder or second-guess?
Caroline spits fire, hands fisted over her hipbones and eyes narrowed to a small wrinkle of skin. "Yeah, well, I have zero to no interest in hearing anything that he—"
"I'm not here in behalf of Klaus."
Rebekah knows, and still, Sophie is naively expecting some sort of reaction out of her. Like this is it. It is real. This is when everything falls apart. When the hidden cards lying on the card table are turned around, and finally they all can see. Where they lie, the loyalties of the witches of New Orleans. Playing triple agent in the endless war against the dark shadows of unnatural immortality.
Everything that lives, must die. Nature dictates. The witches obey.
—she was a witch, once upon a thousand years ago.)
But there are certain exceptions, you see? Sophie doesn't like exceptions, but she has learned to adapt, and so she turns around, lets herself fall on a nearby couch, like the beautiful colonial house is her house; the foster home of the miracle baby her big sister died for; the foster home of the damned and the newly forgiven. Two living vampires, a young one, and an ancient one. The ghostly echo of one who passed. A reborn human monster. A boy, a college freshman. The baby. One living witch. One witch who passed and is searching her way back. What a strange majestic house they have found to lodge—
Caroline's fingers are still gripping the belt loops of her jeans. She fumes, impatient, walking closer to the couch. "Then why are you here?"
Sophie doesn't even blink before she says what she came here to say. "Your friend Bonnie needs to speak with you."
It's as easy as magically lighting a candle.
A few catch fire around the room, strategically placed by Sophie while Caroline just sits there dumfounded, her brow pulled tight and her lips slightly gaping as a million thoughts race inside her head. Because it's not like they—
It's not like they are completely out of touch with ghosts.
It's not like they haven't communicated before. There was that time that ghosts literally invaded Mystic Falls, and there was also the time that Bonnie freaking died to lift the veil, and she actually—for real—graduated high school as a ghost without any of them noticing that their best friend was actually dead. Gone. Rotting somewhere in the entrails of the earth beneath the school grounds. And it's that, Caroline figures. The bitter, painful reminder that Bonnie died and they didn't even notice, went away on holiday and returned with the batteries charged ready for college—it's that gravestone of guilt that knocks the breath out of her chest and suffocates each worth struggling to climb up her knotted throat.
She knows that Jeremy still sees Bonnie sometimes. She knows that Bonnie is alright, that she is watching over them, but Caroline—
Bonnie is dead but Bonnie is also here, still, so Caroline doesn't miss her, okay? Caroline doesn't have to miss her. There is no reason why. She isn't gone. Bonnie is still here, and now she wants to speak with Caroline and that is good, that's a great thing and Caroline is so happy—
"As you know, Bonnie hasn't really left," Sophie confirms from somewhere far far away, her words echoing through the mist clouding Caroline's thoughts with the dull weight of distance. "She's here's with us. I'm only here so you can see her. What she has to say—well, it's better not to say through an intermediary."
Somewhere deep in the fog of her confusion, Caroline suspects she should be paying closer attention. Bonnie is here. Bonnie never left. That's true. That's good. But something is going on now, something not good, and Rebekah has brought this witch from New Orleans so that Bonnie can tell Caroline—
Rebekah's loud, cut-up gasp shakes Caroline out of her perplexity, violently.
Because it's immediately followed by an unfamiliar, unexpected voice.
"Greetings, baby sister," Kol Mikaelson sneers from where is he is suddenly sitting, like a true apparition, right by Caroline's side on the couch, barely one hand away. "I take it by your unbecoming expression of shock you weren't expecting to see me?"
"Get up, Kol," Bonnie reprimands, pushing him on the shoulder from where she is standing behind the couch. "Move away. Go and give your sister a hug or something, and leave Caroline alone."
He doesn't bulk, of course. This is Kol, and if Bonnie has learned anything about Kol in the months—almost a year, she doesn't want to think, feeling her dead blood freezing in her limbs—that they've been forced by the fates to share their spot in the other side, is that Kol doesn't do compliance. He never passes the chance to be a belligerent, annoying little jerk, so of course Bonnie isn't surprised at all when instead of standing up and letting her sit next to Caroline, he actually pats his knees, smirking deviously.
"Don't be mad, darling." He raises his eyebrow suggestively, like the true moron that he is. "We can always share."
He only taunts her because he enjoys driving her mad. It's his main source of entertainment, now that he is a dead undead creature and cannot go around tearing throats open and disemboweling innocent victims out of sport. So she won't give him the satisfaction of fuming, falling for his taunts and handing him over the upper hand. Now, under any other circumstances, she'd have no problem sitting on his lap and showing him what's what. She is far from intimidated by Kol's childish games, and she has no intention of backing down. But—
Without even shaking her head, careful not to let on the slightest hint of annoyance, she simply walks to the other end of the couch, sitting on the armrest not to push Caroline's closer to Kol—something else that would probably make his day, if only Klaus was here to get affronted—and immediately grabbing Caroline's hands in hers and smiling an open, genuine smile—all thoughts of Kol forgotten in a second, as her smile trembles feebly in the corners of her mouth. Caroline's stunned gaze fills up with unshed tears, unexpectedly, even as she mirrors Bonnie's smile almost like it hurts her.
She's ready to bend over, awkward as it may be—kneel on the carpet if she must—to hug Caroline now that she can, now that she has been granted a few minutes of corporeity, but before she can move or say anything else, Rebekah starts shrieking. She leans over on her seat, her hands fisted on her knees like she needs to keep a hold of her legs to keep herself from standing up, start flashing up and down the room, slap the flashing daylights out of her impossibly infuriating brother. Her questions only get louder and louder as her head turns almost spasmodically, from Kol to Sophie to Bonnie and back to Kol again.
"What's going on? Why are you here with the Bennett witch? You never said that my brother—you said this was about Nik and the child. What is Kol doing here? What's going on? I swear to God, I don't care how valuable you are for my two living brothers and their stupid war, I will rip your face into ribbons with my teeth if you don't—"
"Shut up, Rebekah," Caroline's voice suddenly rises, from somewhere a long way deeper than her usual high, cheerful pitch. She sounds more exhausted than annoyed or confused as she insists, sounding almost beside herself. "Shut up shut up shut the hell up."
"But you don't understand—"
"And you don't understand either," Sophie cuts her off, standing up from her seat next to Rebekah and walking towards the fireplace. Immediately, Bonnie follows her lead and goes to stand by her side. A quick nod, and a silent agreement that springs not from their knowledge of each other, but from the detailed instructions both of them are following; and Sophie takes the wheel, momentarily. She lets her eyes fall on Kol, then on Rebekah, and finally she settles her calm and cold stare on Caroline.
"We're here to offer a deal."
This is the room where Tyler's dad used to work. On being a gigantic douchebag, probably. That's all he ever was—and yet lucky enough that he never triggered his curse. Died young but lived as an entirely different kind of monster, not bound to the moon the way his son was, for a while, before Klaus snapped his neck in two. What a strange thought—that Richard Lockwood lived uncursed, wasted his hours away in this leather-clad room (there's a room just like this, but bigger, in the Mikaelson Manor) and died incinerated because John Gilbert thought he was a vampire. Leaving the suffocating gentlemen's club room to his son to occupy. In the wake of a father that he hated, kind of—
Caroline saw Tyler trigger his curse right here in this very room.
How the fates operate, really—
Now the witches explain—
The deal is a trade, sort of.
The terms and conditions of which are explained bluntly to Rebekah, even if Bonnie's eyes keep darting to Caroline every few words or so. The summary version is clear as day: the child in exchange for the family—Rebekah's family, of course.
There are a million questions, at least. Why? How? What does it mean, letting the Spirits guard the child? How can it be possible, for the twice dead to return among the living?
Rebekah doesn't scream this time, as she processes the information. She hadn't been expecting—
Her eyes fill with tears, and she cries in silence. Tears falling down her cheeks each time she nods, like she understands. Like she gets it. But it's clear that she doesn't, as every nod is followed by a small, almost timid shake of her head. No. She frowns. She cries. No no no no.
"I cannot give you the child—"
She's the child's mother. From the moment when Hayley handed her over, and Rebekah nested the baby in the carrier draped over her shoulders. She brought her here to Mystic Falls. She convinced Matt to keep her—
Bonnie understands, Caroline is sure. She even smiles with sympathy as she concedes, "You wouldn't have to."
But Sophie's big brown eyes remain cold and rocklike like granite. She doesn't look away, she doesn't hesitate, she doesn't sugar-coat. "The child isn't safe."
Rebekah nods, her eyes bright, her smile shaking like a child's, her words stumbling out in puffs of breath, like a rattle. "Yes, she is," she pleads. "No one will find out. That's why we brought her here. Mystic Falls is secluded. It is isolated. She will grow up like a human—everyone will think that Matt is her guardian. My brother is gathering up his enemies a thousand miles away from here. I'm just Matt's girlfriend—no one will suspect. I will keep her safe, I promise."
Sophie closes her eyes tight, sighs, shakes her head. It's one part annoyance for each nine parts of pity. Bonnie, however—she lets the compassionate smile fall off her lips as she swallows in preparation for what she is about to say: the words yet unsaid, but that have been floating in the air since the moment Sophie started explaining—
—the Spirits are willing to give you back your family, but they must guard the girl.
"The baby," Bonnie says, the three syllables low but firm as if she were chanting a curse. "It's not your brother's enemies that she needs protection from."
There's no one worse—go and search in every dark corner of the word, if you don't believe me—
There's no one worse than the Big Bad Wolf.
Except, of course—
Rebekah was a dead witch before she became a vampire.
She understands the crime committed by her mother. Against nature. Against life itself.
But if such a crime were ever to be purged—
If life could be born out of death. If life—true life; like the life of a living, breathing, innocent baby—could restore the balance disturbed by the curse of immortality befallen on this damned world. Then—
"Only your family can keep Silas from unleashing hell on earth," Sophie dictates, and Rebekah nods again, this time, at last, finally understanding.
Only their eternal deaths can counterbalance Silas's penance of immortality. Only the life of the child, perpetuated through eternity in the reborn bloodline that her parents extinguished with their sins against nature can counterbalance the plague of death that Rebekah and her brothers spread and will continue to multiply across the centuries—for as long as the world keeps on turning on its axis. Mikael's attempt to exterminate Rika's original bloodline triggered the millenary war between werewolves and vampires. How much blood spilled in vain? The blood of Nik's father is alive again. The original crime of her family against their kind has been redeemed. Can the war be over now?
The witches have made their move and now they must—
"I don't see the problem. It's not like Nik gives a damn about the baby, right?"
Rebekah raises her eyes to look at her brother. He looks forever unconcerned. Amused. Smug and satisfied, because this is what he wanted. A way back. Forever and a day, granted in a world that is to Kol nothing but a playground in which to have his fun indefinitely. He's lived like them for a thousand years, but just like the rest of them, Kol is trapped in his own ways. Rebekah has spent too long as the spoiled bratty entitled baby sister of a handful of very powerful men. Kol has been forever the irresponsible one, forever selfish, forever careless. Let the big brothers wage war. Let the baby sister whine. Kol was too busy having fun to care about the million ways over their family kept on and on, destroying each other again and again, watching each other recompose, only to begin tearing down their lives one more time.
"You don't know Nik," Rebekah says, and look at that, listen to stupid, stupid Caroline gasping. Because who would have thought, that a mindless insignificant baby vampire could dig through the steel-hard skin of their brother and take a peek inside into the abyss, and remain standing on the edge afterwards. Not stumbling. Not tilting. Never falling. "Nik is capable of love, just as much as any of us. Nik loves, he loves brutally. But he can't be selfless about it."
He won't let his daughter go, for her own good. Not ever.
He won't let the witches guard her.
He won't let Matt, or Rebekah, or even Caroline—
He won't let anyone be the subterfuge in the place of someone other than himself.
He won't relinquish her fate. He won't relinquish control.
Especially if he ever finds out—
Rebekah knows—much as she hates it—that Caroline understands, even the parts that haven't been said. Especially, Rebekah supposes, the parts that haven't been said. But still it catches her off-guard when it's Caroline who speaks out loud—
"You'll have to kill Katherine." It's an emotionless statement. Like she doesn't care one way or another. On the one hand, killing humans is generally considered wrong and undesirable by Saint Caroline Forbes. On the other hand, it's no secret to anyone curious enough to ask that Katherine smothered the life out of little cheerleader Caroline for the simple fun of it, right after she came back to town, ready to hand Elena Gilbert to Nik in a silver platter. So it doesn't seem like Caroline really minds that yes, they'll have to kill Katherine, even though she shrugs, regretfully. "What a waste of the cure."
What a waste, indeed. But it's better not to think—
If the doppelganger dies, the thought of keeping Rika forever won't ever cross Nik's mind. But if he ever learns that the witches are willing to trade her fate for the (even if occasional) power over life and death—
—he won't ever forgive that he wasn't the one to set the terms of the deal.
Nik doesn't want Kol. He especially doesn't want Finn. Or Finn's vulgar peasant wife that will most certainly trail along, if they ever stand a chance of convincing him to come and fight (forever) with them. Rebekah knows her brother better than anyone else in the world. She has spent a thousand years by his side. She knows that if this is ever going to work—
"We can't play Nik," she explains, carefully, grabbing a hole of Caroline's misty eyes. "We can't manipulate him into agreeing to this. We can't kill Katherine behind his back, and hope that he never finds out. We can't fool him."
It's not really a matter of how they shouldn't try and play Nik for a fool. It's truly an issue of how they can't. He's smarter than that. He'll figure it out. And then, he'll—
—then the heavens help them all.
"So what are you going to do?"
Caroline's inquisitive eyes are fixed on Rebekah, but they flash across the room as soon as Bonnie whispers her name. There's a slightly worried frown creasing Bonnie's brown, like she doesn't want to say what she's about to say. Like she doesn't like it any more than Caroline will, but she has to understand, that they all have to do their part—
"Well, Caroline, darling…" No one is surprised when Kol, leaning forward on his seat and actually resting his hand on Caroline's shoulder, squeezing it in a gesture of mock comfort, takes pity on Bonnie's struggles and decides to have a bit of fun with other people's misery, as usual. "I believe the question really is, what are you going to do?"
It's so easy to fall back into her newly acquired—actually, newly recovered—habits of bitchiness and bitterness and indifference that she doesn't even register the change in her posture or her emotions as she shoves Kol's hand away from her shoulder, her eyes roaming the room restlessly as she scoffs.
"Me? Yeah, like that's going to happen."
"Caroline—" Rebekah tries, in vain.
"Why would I help you, huh?" Seriously, the sense of entitlement of these people. "I don't care about your family. I don't care what happens to Klaus or to the baby. And I have no wish to see any more members of your psychotic family wreaking havoc and being all kinds of evil and insane all over the—"
Bonnie's whisper is gentle, but once again firm and determined enough to distract Caroline from her pointless, only half-true ranting. Because it's obvious just in the quiet, tender tone of Bonnie's voice that there is one card on the card table still to be flipped and discovered. There's something that Bonnie still hasn't told her. And not even in a million years could have Caroline guessed—
"If the Spirits are allowed to guard the child—" Translation: if some hocus-pocus is done on the baby to create a spell or something similar, Caroline figures, that will tie the girl's fate to the Spirits' plans for her bloodline… "—not only Klaus's family will be allowed to cross the veil."
Caroline gulps down. Bonnie nods. Caroline shakes her head, doesn't want to believe—but then she nods, too.
The silence is thick and heavy and warm, caressed by the flickering, slowly dying flames of Sophie's candles.
No more words are need, and so the spell is broken.
Caroline is alone in the couch, and she can't see Bonnie anymore.
But Bonnie hasn't left. Bonnie is still here.
And if Caroline can convince Klaus to accept the witches' trade and let go, relinquish control over the fate of his daughter—
(like that's an easy task, they said it. That's when you come in, Caroline, darling. What are you going to do?)
(and Elena, and Jeremy, and Damon, and Stefan, and Bonnie's mom and Bonnie's dad)
—she will get her best friend back.
Caroline, darling. What are you going to do?
Thanks for reading as always. I hope you liked the chapter. Not a lot of shippy stuff, sorry about that. But the stage needs to be set up. As I told you, this story is on hiatus now, but it'll be a short one. Thank you!